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A nation unsettled and on the brink

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Relationships are built on trust. Families and nations falter or thrive depending on the willingness and ability of members and citizens to learn how to live with their differences, find common ground and trust one another.

Watching the vitriol and discord unfold in our nation’s political parties, media, communities and families has been unsettling and disheartening for most Americans. The roots of our differences run deep. Some would argue they run through centuries of human history, and layers of deeply embedded fear and hatred. Without a serious willingness to own our part in how we perpetuate the disunity that has put our nation on the brink of an uncivil war, the situation is not likely to change. In fact, it will get worse.

Many of us wonder, “How can we be on such completely different pages as our fellow Americans? How can one version of the truth unfold before millions of viewers on Fox, and a completely different one play out on CNN and MSNBC?”

To understand how this is possible, I turn to my work with families and how kids who take sides with one of their feuding parents are put in an untenable position of split loyalty. Caught in the crossfire of a mom and dad who are fanning rather than dousing the flames of their animosity, children feel pressured to choose sides. Living with angry parents who cannot resolve their differences in a peaceful, civil manner, children take on the stress and trauma of living in a familial war zone.

How many of us are similarly distressed as we search for the adult in the room who speaks in civil tones, builds bridges and forges understanding?

How many of us are sick and tired of the distrust that arises when we reach for common ground in good faith, only to be overshadowed by someone who recklessly spews rhetoric, spreads misinformation and pours fuel on the fire?

Have we undergone such moral decay that we expect our leaders to lie to us? Has trust eroded to the point we’re caught in a feud we cannot defuse? And can we, as citizens, no longer tell fact from fiction? A study by Stanford University shows that many people cannot differentiate real from fake news stories. According to BuzzFeed, in the three months before the last presidential election the top 20 false news stories had more Facebook shares, reactions, and comments than the top 20 true ones.

Might each of us stop for a minute and take inventory by asking, “What if the leaders I’ve chosen, and in whom I place my faith, are incapable of putting the well-being of our nation above their own self-interests? What if I’ve grown numb, indifferent or allegiant to the destructive partisanship that threatens the future of our democracy? What if I’ve become more a part of the problem than the solution by the way I think, speak and act?”

Our nation’s risk of fracture is greater now than at any time since the Civil War. If we allow ourselves to become increasingly divided, the foundation on which our democracy is built could falter and fail.

What more can we do? Here are some ideas for becoming smarter, better informed citizens and part of the solution:

  1. Champion the idea that “We are better than this” and embrace an approach that goes beyond self-interest and faux patriotism to perpetuate civility at every turn.
  2. Do your homework and discern rhetoric from reality. Don’t allow the truth to be replaced by self-serving spin-doctors and masters of deception.
  3. Support leaders who encourage us to work out our differences and stand on common ground in the true spirit of democracy.
  4. Fight to bring out the best, not the worst, in one another. Restore civility by listening respectfully and rediscovering our shared American identity.
  5. Champion leaders like Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, who announced plans to ban political ads and curtail the spread of political lies.
  6. Disagree respectfully and reach across the aisle with humility.
  7. Accept that we’re all works in progress and change does not occur overnight.
  8. Preserve the best elements of our world for the kids, grandkids and future generations.

It’s time for all of us to hold ourselves accountable for unifying and healing our nation. With honesty, humility, and respect, we can do this!

Dr. Ken Druck is an expert on aging and family psychology who has been featured on Oprah and CNN, FOX and PBS as well as in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. His work over the past four decades has been focused on strengthening families through “courageous living.” He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fielding Institute and a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University. He is the author of numerous books including “The Secrets Men Keep,” “The Real Rules of Life,” “Courageous Aging” and “Raising an Aging Parent.” Learn more at

Tags civility political polarization Popular culture

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